- 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 203 horsepower and spins to a wild 8,500 rpm.
- The five-speed gearbox is terrific.
- Yes, it has three wheels.
- I hope you like attention.
The 2024 Polaris Slingshot Is an Extrovert's Dream
It's perfectly pointless
Biodiversity isn't particularly strong these days in the automotive ecosystem. Sure, you've got well over 20 mainstream manufacturers making everything from hatchbacks to sedans to coupes, SUVs big and small, trucks and a myriad of electric vehicles, but most of them are pretty similar. Obviously cars like the Corvette Z06, 911 GT3 and Civic Type R are standouts, but what if you want something different? Like really different?
How about splicing some genes from a snowmobile together with those from a side-by-side and then stuffing it all into a three-wheeled motorcycle-y car-thing and making it road-legal? Is that different enough for you?
What am I looking at?
Depending on where you live, the Slingshot is either classified as a three–wheeled motorcycle or an autocycle. Whichever state you live in, and how it's classified in your state, will determine whether or not you'll need a motorcycle license to operate a Slingshot. So it's best to look into that before you go out and buy one. Anyways …
Though its wide stance and single rear wheel might lead you to believe the Slingshot is front-wheel-drive, it is, thankfully, not. Powering that lonely rear wheel is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of Polaris' own design. Known as the ProStar, this double-overhead cam engine spins to a faintly unbelievable 8,500 rpm and flings out up to 203 horsepower and 144 lb-ft of torque. Backing up that engine is a five-speed transmission (yes, five) offered as a traditional manual or as an automated manual (the clutch and gears are hydraulically actuated) should you not be up for shifting yourself. The rear wheel is driven via a carbon-fiber-reinforced 30-mm belt, like a larger motorcycle.
Inside-ish, the driver faces a two-spoke steering wheel and looks into a small instrument panel with a center-mounted digital information display with an analog speedometer and tachometer on either side. At first glance, the number 220 on the speedometer seems a bit optimistic but as it can be switched between miles and kilometers per hour, it makes much more sense. But that 8,500 rpm redline on the tachometer is as real as it is daunting, for reasons we'll get to shortly.
The Slingshot isn't exactly devoid of any creature comforts but it is a relatively uncomplicated cockpit. We spent time in models with a 7-inch touchscreen and an upgraded 200-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system. You also get a locking glovebox, a single USB port, a grippy storage tray for your phone, and cupholders. Behind each of the seats are helmet-sized lockable storage bins, so if you hadn't guessed already, you should pack light.
What am I driving?
When I first stepped in (remember, there are no doors) the Slingshot felt very much like a rough-and-ready little car. After all, Polaris is much better known for building off-highway adventure vehicles — things like side-by-sides and snowmobiles — so they don't exactly do soft-touch materials. As a quick aside, they also make boats and own Indian Motorcycle brand.
As there's no way to make the Slingshot weather-tight (there is somewhat of a bikini-style top and a larger windscreen but you're still going to be one with the climate) the rugged interior is just part of the deal with the Slingshot. Buttons are large and rubbery, making every press a sure thing, and while the seats are far from plush, they do make you feel secure — a not underappreciated feeling when you can nearly touch the asphalt at 65 mph.
Since I don't like taking stones, bees and errant beer cans to the face while driving, I strapped on a full face helmet before getting underway. There is a taller windscreen available for the Slingshot but the standard one is a bit on the short side, especially for drivers over 6 feet tall. Remember, depending on where you live, a helmet might be mandatory anyway. Oh, and the seat belts are located in the center of the Slingshot and buckle to the outside. I forgot that. Every time.
My miles were spent in a Slingshot with a manual gearbox, and it was with some nostalgia that I took a quick practice run through the gears, all five of them, before firing up the Slingshot. Oh, and you might want to wear earplugs because that manic little motor is loud. Keen readers will notice that there is no visible exhaust pipe on the Slingshot. That's because the exhaust dumps out just in front of the passenger's footwell. While there is sufficient heat shielding, there's not much in the way of sound attenuation on the really short exhaust system. I'm not being unkind when I call it industrial. It is a pretty rough and not particularly romantic noise.
The first real surprise? The gearbox is a total sweetheart. When I say it's one of the best-shifting manuals I've driven in the past few years, I mean it. There's a nice weight to the throws and every gear engages quickly and positively. It's not light and speedy like the one in a Civic Type R but it feels, and likely is, exponentially more robust. The clutch takeup is quickly mastered, and before you know it, I'm that weird guy driving that weird car-thing with three wheels.
What is going on?
I'm not one for attention, so even just trundling along through town made me very self-conscious. You're exposed in ways that you're not in a regular car, even in a convertible, and you can certainly feel every driver and passenger trying to take stock of what exactly they're sharing the road with. Now that I'm already on the road, this is a perfect time to mention that you'll need to adjust your mirrors before you roll out since they are not power-adjustable and you can't adjust the passenger side mirror at all once you're belted in.
Mirrors might not seem too important in something without doors, or a roof, or a real windshield, but the Slingshot's got some blind spots, especially at the rear. The view ahead is great. You can see the near side front tire, so you can put that wherever you like with ease. And while you do sit low, you're not buried behind the cowl of the Slingshot. But a quick over-the-shoulder check to the right only gets you an eyeful of Slingshot. Behind your back is a sizable bulkhead that protects the fuel tank and supports the roll hoops. There's a rear-facing camera that can be live when you're moving, but your blind spots can be the size of a sedan.
The motor doesn't feel particularly powerful when you're moseying through town, but you have to keep in mind: 3,000 rpm is nothing for this thing. While there is a less potent version that makes 178 horsepower, I was driving the 203-hp model and those ponies are made at 8,250 rpm. But all of that power represents both a conundrum and a challenge. To keep things sane, you short-shift and keep the revs (and subsequent noise) down. But if you wanna open it up a bit, as you should, you come across the second surprise. Switch off the traction control and the Slingshot does burnouts. Lots of burnouts. Oh, and did I mention this thing weighs just under 1,700 pounds?
The 305-section rear tire is only about half of what would be needed to not do burnouts, like, everywhere. On an empty stretch of road, I buried the throttle as I turned right from a stop and spun the wheel right through first gear. Shifting to second interrupted the spinning for a split second before it resumed again, this time until I short-shifted a bit at 5,000. Again, the spinning paused before I grabbed third gear and chirped that poor tire. Behind me lay probably one of the weirdest looking one-wheel peels I've ever done.
Even if you're not looking to get wheelspin, you're probably gonna get some, or at the very least a nice fat powerslide if you goose it going around a corner. As with any car I drive, the first slide is always the sketchiest, but I quickly realized the Slingshot steps out predictably and that long-travel throttle pedal can be modulated in concert with the steering to correct and hold a little lunacy with ease. This is when I started to really enjoy the weird little car-thing. You can't really drive the Slingshot straight-up. Look at it.
It demands to be driven with about the same amount of verve and aggression as its styling would suggest. You can toss it around a bit and thanks to that singular rear wheel, you can get quite a thrill at fairly normal speeds on a good back road. I didn't fully figure out the handling characteristics during my time in the Slingshot, but it's not as spooky as you might expect. With a quick-acting and far grippier front than the rear, there's always a subtle feeling that the rear is planning a little trip outside the lines, but that liveliness, again, is just part of the experience. You're not buying one of these to blend in, so you shouldn't drive it like you want to, either.
As good as the gearbox is, I really wish it had shorter gears. They're ridiculously tall, and while I understand why (if they were as short as I'd like you'd never be able to accelerate even moderately hard without lighting up the rear tire) it's a bummer that you don't get to shift more often. Example? You can drive on the freeway in second gear. Third gear will likely go to around 100 mph and topping it out in fifth, well, for legal reasons I can't really say anything about that.
But the engine is just a little monster. What it lacks in outright power and refinement, it makes up for with linearity and just the sheer audacity it has to rev to 8,500 rpm. That's Lamborghini Huracan territory and not too far off a Porsche 911 GT3. It's a gruff little thing but much like the fit-for-purpose interior, it's part of the surprising charm of the Slingshot.
How far can I go?
That kind of depends on what you're willing to tolerate, in terms of noise, buffeting and general exposure. At 9.7 gallons, the Slingshot does have a small but practical fuel tank, and during my time behind the wheel I saw around 21 mpg, which could net you a cruising range of about 200 miles. Of course you might need to stop for all of the aforementioned reasons (I had a headache after three hours), but you can road trip the Slingshot. Just remember to pack super light since only a small duffle bag is likely to fit behind each seat.
How much does this cost?
You can be pretty different for not a lot of money. There are five trim levels available: S, SL, SLR, R and the Roush Edition. Yes, that Roush. Moving up through the trim levels unlocks a bit more standard equipment, a more powerful engine, and a wider array of paint colors and interior trim. You don't get a lot in the way of equipment, or advanced driver aids, but you can get Apple CarPlay compatibility, and cruise control is standard. In case you're wondering, ABS, as well as traction and stability control, is standard as well.
Prices start at $21,999 (not including destination) for the S with the manual and move up by a few thousand dollars with every trim level all the way to the Roush, topping out at $38,149. Opting for the AutoDrive transmission adds nearly $2,000 to the bottom line. The Slingshot really isn't a primary vehicle, although we're sure some people are rocking it, but for the experience alone, it's way less expensive than anything else on the market.
In the ever increasing genericness of automotive styling, the Polaris Slingshot is well and truly different. It doesn't need to look the way that it does. It doesn't need to rev to 8,500 rpm and it doesn't need to be quite so fun and charming. But it just is and it can make even the same old back roads a whole new challenge. It's also very customizable and many of the options, from paint to accessories and more that I didn't touch upon here, are available from Polaris and can be equipped when you purchase a Slingshot. It is most certainly not for everyone, but if you get a chance to drive one, take it. Now I need to see about getting one to our test track and in the hands of our experts.